‘Coming to America’ (1988) Review

On his 21st birthday, Prince Akeem from Zamunda is introduced to his bride-to-be, a woman whose sole purpose in life is to please him. Realizing she has no interests or mind of her own, Akeem decides he wants to find his true love elsewhere. A woman who will challenge him in every way. He tells his father he needs to sow his “royal oats” before marriage and the King agrees, unaware of Akeem’s true intentions. Akeem and his servant, Semmi, travel to Queens in New York, where Akeem wants to live as destitute as possible in order to find a woman who loves him for him and not his royal status or money.

Akeem soon falls for Lisa McDowell, the daughter of Cleo McDowell, owner of a McDonald’s-esque fast-food chain, McDowell’s. Cleo also happens to be Akeem and Semmi’s boss after they get a job at the fast-food restaurant. Despite Lisa having a boyfriend, Akeem wants to win her heart. Shenanigans ensue.

I’ve seen this movie before but the only thing I really remembered from it was the theme song and Paul Bates’s hilarious falsetto song announcing Imani Izzi (Vanessa Bell) as Akeem’s betrothed. But the husband and I decided to watch it again in preparation for Coming 2 America, which was released this year.

I enjoyed Coming to America quite a bit and it holds up remarkably well for being over 30 years old. This seemed to be when Eddie Murphy was Eddie Murphy. Bitingly funny and unapologetic about it. Before the string of terrible movies like Norbit, Pluto Nash and I Spy, etc. Murphy is a talented comic and I loved his various roles in this movie, including Sexual Chocolate frontman, Randy Watson, and the hilarious barber, Clarence. Arsenio Hall is just as funny as Semmi (as well as Clarence’s colleague Morris, and the disgustingly sexist, Reverend Brown) and while the movie is essentially a romantic comedy, I thought the bright spots were definitely attributed to Murphy and Hall’s wonderful chemistry.

Akeem embraces American culture with a smile and open arms. Semmi hates it and wants to go back to living in luxury. Even their approaches to finding beautiful women are different. Semmi is all for the physical experience but Akeem craves more. And he finds that in Lisa. Shari Headley and Murphy also have some lovely chemistry. She’s a strong-willed woman, which makes you wonder what she’s doing with Darryl (Eriq La Salle), a preppy doofus whose hair is encased in Soul Glo hair products (owned by his family). Lisa and Akeem come together in surprisingly sweet ways and I can’t help but wonder if Murphy has ever played a more likable character than Akeem Joffer.

Coming to America is R-rated humor at its best. Clever and raunchy without being too raunchy. There are the obvious physical gags and jokes combined expertly with the more subtle humor that might fly under the radar if you’re not paying enough attention. I enjoy John Landis quite a bit as a director but sometimes I forgot that he was the one behind the camera here. This movie felt like Eddie Murphy was at the helm in every way, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

A predictable, but truly funny rom-com, due largely in part to Murphy and Hall giving two really delightful performances.

Author: Romona Comet

"I'm probably watching a rom-com right now."